You gotta hand it to the NFL?s slick public relations department: They can spin around bad news faster than Adrian Peterson can spin out of a tackle. After it was reported that 31 of the League?s players have been arrested since the Super Bowl?and that doesn?t count the multiple incarcerations of two players?the suits on Park Avenue were quick to point out that their arrest rate of roughly 1 percent is still significantly lower than that of the general population. In other words, ?For every one Aaron Hernandez, we?ve got 99 choir boys. So why don?t you just get the hell off our backs!?
Nice try. But you know Commissioner Roger Goodell?who, coincidentally, rose from the PR ranks?is seething. His ?Protect the Shield? mantra continues to fall on deaf ears, and since training camps don?t open until late this month, odds are the police blotter will light up with another NFL name or three in the next few weeks ? meaning quite a few more sleepless nights for the commish. Well, Rog, allow me to provide you some middle-of-the-night reading material (or Ambien), as this week I kick off my series of NFL season win-total recommendations with the AFC East.
Something to keep in mind: In my three years doing this exercise, I?ve enjoyed unbelievable success, going 52-25-1, including 22-9-1 last season. Now, to answer your inevitable question: I have no clue why my prognostications the rest of the year stink like microwaved fish! (Note: I?m taking the best available odds offered by three sportsbooks: William Hill, Cantor and the LVH.)
Bills (6?): So Buffalo hired a new coach (Doug Marrone) whose greatest claim to fame is winning the Pinstripe Bowl (twice!), and the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart is a guy (Kevin Kolb) who couldn?t beat out John Skelton in Arizona last summer. And yet, I?m sipping the Buffalo Kool-Aid for a second straight year, for several reasons: Marrone is not Chan Gailey (this is called addition by subtraction); Kolb is merely keeping the QB seat warm for rookie E.J. Manuel; and the Bills?who got to six wins in 2012?have a very manageable schedule.
After opening at home against the Patriots, Buffalo plays four straight winnable games against the Panthers (home), Jets (road), Ravens (home) and Browns (road). Late in the season they also host the Jets and Dolphins, plus make a trip to Jacksonville. Even the finale at New England might not be daunting, as the Pats might not have any reason to play their starters. The Play: OVER (+130, Cantor)
Dolphins (8): With each passing year, Dan Marino?s career looks more and more impressive. Hell, so does Jay Fiedler?s! Since Fiedler led Miami to a 10-6 record in 2003, the ?Phins have won as many as eight games just twice (in 2005 and 2008). So why are the experts so high on Miami in 2013? QB Ryan Tannehill was average at best in 2012 (and now faces the dreaded sophomore slump); he lost his Pro Bowl left tackle (Jake Long) and leading rusher (Reggie Bush); the defense?which ranked in the bottom half of the league last year in total and passing yards allowed?doesn?t have a single marquee player; and the schedule includes the likes of the Patriots (twice), Falcons, Saints, Bengals and Steelers. The play: UNDER (-125, Cantor)
Jets (6?): How pathetic was New York?s passing attack in 2012? Law enforcement, with its 31 NFL ?catches? this offseason, would?ve been the Jets? second-leading receiver! Well, assuming they could catch what Mark Sanchez was throwing. Anyway, to say the Jets are in midst of a downward spiral would be too kind: In 2009, they went 9-7 and had a plus-112 point-differential. From there, they went 11-5 (+63), 8-8 (+14) and 6-10 (-94). Oh, and they?ve got less talent than they had last year?and I?m factoring in that they cut Tim Tebow! But, hey, Rex Ryan sure looks trim … The play: UNDER (-150, all books)
Patriots (11): That blood-curdling scream you hear is coming from New England?s bandwagon, whose passengers are fleeing en masse as though someone tossed a hand grenade onboard. No Gronk? No Hernandez? No Welker? Noooooo! Well, here?s what I know about the Patriots: They once won 11 games with Matt Cassel as their quarterback. (Seriously?I looked it up). That?s part of New England?s run of 10 consecutive double-digit-victory seasons, including eight years of at least 11 wins. You want to count out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?two guys who take the slightest of slights oh-so-seriously?you go right ahead. Me? I?m gonna sit back and stretch out my legs on this now-roomy bandwagon. The play: OVER (+110, LVH)
Best Bet: Jets-UNDER
Next Week: AFC North